NEWPORT, R.I. - Zombie [zom-bee] (noun): the body of a dead person given the semblance of life, but mute and will-less, by a supernatural force, usually for some evil purpose.
While “the walking dead” were featured in a New York Times bestselling book, “World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War,” the author, Max Brooks, asserted zombies served as a metaphor for national security threats in a speech at the Naval War College (NWC) Dec. 16.
“Mr. Brooks is the world’s leading expert on Zombie preparedness…I think he truly understands the potential for global crisis, and how unprepared we are,” quipped NWC President Rear Adm. Phil Wisecup in introductory remarks before an audience gathered in NWC’s Pringle Auditorium.
Brooks, the son of actor and producer Mel Brooks, is visiting NWC until Dec. 18, to talk about his book in a lecture and in a book club setting and to attend the President’s Forum, an informal dialogue between faculty and a small group of scholars and scientists thinking about the future.
At the start of his lecture, he explained why he used zombies to discuss national security.
“We believe if we mind our own business, we’ll be fine,” said Brooks. “Zombies come to you when you’re minding your own business.”
He expressed how the collective memory of Americans is very short and that the United States as a society often leans toward isolationism. Brooks used wild fires in southern California, where he grew up, as an example of Americans forgetting their past experiences.
“Every time, some government official comes on TV and says, ‘wow, we didn’t see that coming,’” Brooks said. “We don’t learn from our history, or anybody else’s.”
In his book, he relied heavily on history and economics to draw conclusions about national security threats, including historical campaigns such as the German strategy during World War II to destroy supply ships instead of warships. The unprecedented tactic caused supply shortages throughout the U.K., and threatened to cripple the country.
He modeled scenarios in his book on how the world and nations have responded to crises in the past and how they might repeat history in the face of a worldwide incident in the future.
Brooks also said causing panic, which he dubbed a “contagious” emotion, is an easy way to threaten a country. He used the H1N1 flu virus as an example of when large amounts of people will panic, and nations spend lots of money dealing with the issue when those funds could be used elsewhere.
“The line between peace and war is gone,” Brooks said. “There are thousands of ways to hurt another country, and none of them have to do with killing.”
NWC student Lt. John Gaines said the metaphors in Brooks’ book will help him in decision-making processes. “I think when you talk about weapons you fight with, the weapons that you have, if they’re not going to be effective…you need to be able to reassess that,” he said.
In a modern, international economy, all countries are linked. Brooks emphasized that engagement is important, and that the U.S. needs more people who are able to look across the spectrum of world events and recognize the connections.
Economic, social and political problems are closely related, and can become the responsibility of the military. Brooks said the U.S. has often been regarded as the world’s police force, but the world’s landlord is a more accurate analogy because the U.S. is often expected to be engaged by other nations and peoples.
Gaines said the book also points out that traditional militaries have to be “fed, lead, and have a bed,” and unconventional combatants, in this case zombies, don’t have those same needs. “It’s (the book) a pretty interesting take,” he said.
by Tyler Will, Naval War College Public Affairs